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Ruth Emerson Wortis 1938-2015

Please circulate.


Celebratory Remembrance 

Sunday April 24, 2016

10:30 - 1PM


Studio 102, Shadbolt Centre for the Arts

6450 Deer Lake Avenue

Burnaby, British Columbia V5J 2G3


Part 1  Celebration of Life in the Quaker form.

After an initial period of silent meditation, those who are moved to speak may share brief memories, thoughts and other appreciations.  The meeting then closes with another silence.


Part 2 Music and Dance tribute.

Let's enjoy together these artforms that Ruth loved. All are welcome to participate in a short piece of group movement.


Refreshments will be served after the ceremonies.


Please contact Michael Wortis to help us plan for sufficient chairs and food.


Fall, 2015


I have just received word of the death of a woman who performed in a dance of mine when she was in her 60s, and through this I became blessed with her friendship.  

                                                                Ruth Emerson Wortis


I was delighted when Dianne Miller introduced me to Ruth -  someone in Vancouver who had been part of the Judson Church movement!  I received handwritten responses to dances I did when Ruth had been in the audience.  Insightful, humourous and sans even a trace of ego, they led to rich conversations, and onward to a work for different-aged women called "Fine Romances" in which she created a role she danced over the ensuing years.

We spent time in her and her husband Michael's exquisite home.  In the soft light from their windows and the spaciousness of their open rooms we talked; long roaming exchanges - about art, dance -always dance-  life, social justice, cooking, her Quaker origins, her children and at that time still to arrive grandchildren.  We often improvised in her home studio.  Improvisation was one of her true homes, and she was generous and playful there as in life.  


Once she said that with the advent of motherhood she became a jill of all trades or renaissance woman, never sure which at any given time.  That has rung through my years since.  She was someone with a light in her for dance, and she continued to share that light in many different inventive, adventurous yet modest ways as long as I knew her.  I delighted to see her long stride enter the First United Church Mission, another shared passion.   I would love to see her twinkling eyes again.  


I must add that she knit a sweater for our infant daughter that was probably the best kid garment I have ever seen, and led style Goddess Lola McLaughlin to say that our daughter was probably the best dressed kid in Canada.  


Here is a memorium I received. The lovely photographs appear by permission of Michael Wortis.  



Ruth Emerson Wortis 1938-2015:


Ruth Emerson (Wortis), dancer, choreographer, dance educator, and one of the pioneers of Postmodern dance, died Sept. 13, 2015, in New Westminster, BC Canada, from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. She leaves behind husband, Michael, daughters, Naomi and Rachel, and beloved grandchildren, Robert and Jack Beda and Yvonne Wiegman.


The youngest of four children, Ruth was born on Mar. 16, 1938, in Palo Alto, CA, to Robert (Bob) Emerson, noted biophysicist and early researcher into photosynthesis, and Claire (Tita) Garrison, great grand-daughter of American abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison.


She spent her early years in Pasadena, CA. She and her family enjoyed Sierra trips summer and winter. She spent time with her father at the Manzanar Relocation Camp, where Bob coordinated the work of Japanese interns on the Guayule Project, learning how to grow this rubber-containing desert shrub as a potential replacement for natural rubber from sources cut off from the West by WWII. In 1946 the family moved to Urbana, IL, where Bob was Professor in the Botany Department of the University of Illinois until his tragic death in an airplane crash in 1959.


                                                         Ruth at University High Schol Prom     1954


Ruth attended University High school, where she had her first exposure to dance under the inspiring mentorship of Mim Rosen. She was an undergraduate at Radcliffe College, where she spent all her spare time dancing and studied summers at the American Dance Festival in New London, CT, with Louis Horst and José Limon. She graduated from Radcliffe in 1958 with a BA in Mathematics.




After college, she supported herself by writing school math texts while taking dance classes at the Martha Graham School, the Merce Cunningham Studio, and the Robert Joffrey School of Ballet in New York and performing with the Dancemakers in Boston. In New York she danced with the Pearl Lang Company.



She was a founding member in 1962 of the Judson Dance Theatre, pioneers of the formal, minimalist movement style now known as Postmodern Dance. (See, e.g., Don McDonagh, The Rise and Fall and Rise of Modern Dance; Sally Bane, Terpsichore in Sneakers: Postmodern Dance and Democracy’s Body Judson Dance Theatre 1962-1964).



In 1964, she married theoretical physicist, Michael Wortis, moving first to Berkeley, CA, where she danced with Ann Halprin and then to Paris, France, where she performed and choreographed at the Theatre d’Essai de la Dance. After Paris, she drove with her husband across the Middle East, climbing mountains in Iran and Afghanistan, and then spending the fall in Lahore, Pakistan, before returning in January 1966, to Urbana IL, where she had grown up.



In Urbana she had her two daughters, Naomi and Rachel, while continuing to perform and to choreograph. From 1968 to 1973 she held a part-time faculty position in the Dance Department at the University of Illinois, teaching technique and doing undergrad advising. She completed an MA in Dance at the University of Illinois in 1973 under Margaret Erlanger and Jan Stockman Simonds.



She founded a dance company, Somedancers, Inc., which performed in Champaign/Urbana 1974- 1978. In 1979, she studied in New York City and became a Certified Laban Movement Analyst. From 1981 to 1987 she taught dance and choreographed musicals at University High School, where she had spent her own high school years and where her daughters were then students. She held a residency at the Radcliffe Institute in 1986-1987.



In Fall 1987, the family moved to Vancouver, BC, Canada. Ruth served on the Committee that developed the first BC Provincial Dance Curriculum for BC schools under the Provincial Ministry of Education. As a Sessional Instructor at the Centre for the Arts and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Education at Simon Fraser University, she developed and taught a program to offer this material to student teachers.  She also continued to perform and to choreograph locally, and she offered dance courses at local community centres. She served nationally on the grant selection committee of the Canada Council, Dance Section.


Both before and after the move, the family enjoyed regular backcountry travel vacations in the beautiful wilderness regions of the US and Canada, camping, hiking, climbing, sailing, canoeing, and kayaking, together and with dear friends.



Ruth was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2002 and endured its inevitable ravages with enormous fortitude and profound grace.


She was a Quaker. She did volunteer work at the First United Church Mission in the Downtown Eastside. She was an anti-war activist and a neighbourhood organizer. Her favorite tee shirt declared, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” She self-identified as an artist, an arts educator, and a passionate advocate for the importance of art and imagination every day for everyone. She told her students and anyone else who would listen, “if you can walk, you can dance.” She knew how to giggle and when to leap onto the bowsprit in heavy seas.



A celebration-of-life memorial will be held at a later date, not yet decided, perhaps as late as Spring 2016.


Please let us know if you would care to be notified. Memorial donations are neither solicited nor expected; however, if you should feel so moved, appropriate donees might be:

First United Church


Canadian Friends Service Committee (,

Nimbus Dance

(, and

Dancers Dancing